Blowing and the Wind

In the house of my Great-grandmother, I remember three different sounds, tones, which were not present all the time.  Or let me say it more precisely, they coincided with times when the wind was blowing.

Is it too early to talk about technicalities?  The house had a ground floor and two storeys.  There were individual chimneys to each level; needless to say, they were of different length.  The shortest, leading to the top floor ended in the potbelly stove in the master bedroom.  The one for the first floor ventilated the fireplace in the ‘good room’.

The longest and fattest chimney led to the stove and oven in the kitchen.
Similar, but much smaller, a Greek shepherd’s pan-pipe consists of lined-up tubes of different lengths.  And when blown across their open ends, they sound at a different pitch.

And, if you observed carefully, you would have noticed, the pitch of the shorter pipes is higher, and they need less airflow to sound, the longer pipes hum lower and need more breath.

And this is how it was at the house of my Great-grandmother.  A gentle breeze would play the shortest chimney’s tone and as the wind speed increased, the chimney of the second floor would sound its particular, lower note and with even more wind the ground floor chimney would join in with a low drone.

It was the architecture, and the resulting proportion of lengths of the chimneys, which caused a harmonic trio.  Now, is this a coincidence?

And, after you experimented the panpipe for a while, you may have noticed, if you blew excessively, the shorter pipes would just hiss and stop sounding.  The same happened in the house of my Great-grandmother.

When the autumn storms would race across the roof, and some of the roof tiles would rattle because the shingles had slipped only the ground floor chimney would resonate; there was one loud, deep tone. The chimneys of the upper floors would hiss angrily.

My family was aware of the sounds the house produced, and they would say: “The house talks, it tells a story.”  And everyone would go on about their business and quietly listen to the house; some of the children would be worried, others were curious trying to hear the house’s tale.


I was too young then and did not know anything about these details.  At the time, I would only utter enough words to get what I wanted.  And apparently, I did not make much of an effort to learn more words.  But those sounds had fascinated me, and the adults told me later, I used to smile, especially to the rumbling tone of the ground floor chimney and laugh at its growling.


I had observed, whenever the house sounded, the branches of the trees would wave at me.  I stretched out my arms and aligned my hands and fingers with the branches of a tree, and I would mimic their motions.  They said: “He likes trees and waves at them.”

They were mistaken.  By copying the branches’ movement I wanted to make the sound, whenever I wanted, I liked so much.  I was used to getting what I wanted.  But, in this case, it did not work.

Children are relentless with their efforts.  Otherwise, many of us would never learn to walk.  It is very advantageous to be short at the time when learning to walk because one does not fall a long distance.

Furthermore, additional padding softens the impact.  Later in life, we would feel too embarrassed.  Mind you, I remember, when we learned ice-skating, some of us would push a small pillow in the bottom of their trousers.

Returning to the wind, I can say, I had taken an interest in the movement of tree branches.  I also loved feeling the wind on my skin, and I laughed loudly when I saw the leaves on the ground being raised and when they danced in the air like wild little creatures.

Children are generally more fascinated by things, which are of similar size to them, or even better when they are smaller.


By the age of four, I had collected more evidence about the making of wind: When I helped Oma (my grandmother) folding bed sheets after they had dried on the line, we shook them and pulled them before folding them.  The shaking made a lot of wind.  Conclusion: shaking large things makes wind.

Thus, I quickly correlated those facts of wind occurring through strong movement of big things, and I deduced: ‘When trees wave their branches, they make wind.’  There was no doubt.  I knew it.

I had seen pictures with puffy clouds in the sky.  Clouds with pursed lips blowing, making wind.  I knew this was silly.

At this stage of my life, I had not experienced what it meant to make a wrong assumption.  I was entirely sure about the trees making the wind when shaking their branches.  There was no need to ask the adults, but I was confident to advise other children on my discovery.


This much about knowing something.  There must some unconscious process occurring in our mind; once it is convinced to have enough evidence it creates the illusion of this topic being correct and real, and the truth and nothing but the truth.

How often have I undergone this process of realising, my current, absolute truth could not stand up to new experiences, new learning and had to be discarded.  Not only about trees making the wind.

And not only me.  How often has the hard and solid science surrendered its rules and discoveries?  Really, only laymen believe in this solidness.  Inside the tower of science, the definition sounds like this: “A ‘proven, validated’ hypothesis is considered as truth until it is disproved”.

Once a new hypothesis has been accepted, there are hordes of scientists set out to hunt it down.  There is nothing holy about it.  Sometimes, a somewhat sporty attitude prevails, but unfortunately, more often than less, the motivation is that of backstabbing, political and commercial.

Nevertheless, may the truth be real, intermittent or momentary, those scientific laws moved the world of technology forward, not much progress would have happened without it.

It’s a bit like stepping up a staircase.  It does not matter if one or the other stepping board breaks later on after we have ascended.   Once we have moved beyond, we may not even notice what happened behind us.  And really, does it matter?  The broken step served its purpose.


Wind still fascinates me and things being moved by it, like kites, sailing boats, gliders and big birds.  The focus of my study of ingeneering was acoustics.  I love music from wind instruments, especially organ music.


PS:  It took us 2.5 million years to go through the stone ages; it’s only about 6000 years since then. The age of technology is only about 200 years old. In regards to evolution, this is hardly the length of a second.


Wolfgang Köhler

20 August 2012
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